Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Interview with Ben Jaffe and Del McCoury on "Hidden Track" music blog

Here's an interview from with Ben and Del from the Hidden Track music blog:

HT Interview: Del McCoury and Ben Jaffe, Ambassadors of American Music
by Ryan Dembinsky

When The Del McCoury Band teamed up with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to record the album American Legacies, the merging of the two bands represented more then just a simple musical collaboration. The union brought together two groups who serve as the ambassadors of their respective genres, stewards of American music heritage. Over the years, beyond being of the foremost musicians in their fields, both The Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band under the direction of Ben Jaffe have taken on roles tasked with spreading the legacies of bluegrass and New Orleans Jazz music.
Del McCoury has not only spread bluegrass to the younger generation (quite literally) through teaching and playing with his own sons, but he has participated in countless collaborations throughout the festival circuit and embraced the various derivations of traditional bluegrass such as newgrass and the jambands. Similarly, Ben Jaffe and Preservation Hall have reached new audiences by incorporating New Orleans Jazz into collaborations with My Morning Jacket, Ani Difranco and Tom Waits, among others.
In what was undeniably one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had as a writer, I sat down with both Del McCoury and Ben Jaffe at the Ameritania Hotel just around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theater right before the bands took the stage to tape their performance for the David Letterman show later that night. In speaking with Del and Ben, it takes all of about five seconds to see why everybody wants to play music with them. They radiate charisma and come across instantly as truly genuine people who are happy to be doing what they do. What follows is an intimate conversation that touches on the cross-fertilization of the two genres of music, the surprising similarities between New Orleans Jazz and bluegrass, the importance of family, and honoring one’s heritage.

Hidden Track: I was going to ask this to both you, but before Ben gets here, Del, when you were first starting out in music and learning your chops what led you to your style, to bluegrass, and to your instrument?

Del McCoury: I learned to play the guitar when I was about nine. My brother taught me to play. When I was about 11, he bought a record of Earl Scruggs and when I heard him play that three finger style banjo, it turned a light on. I thought, “That is what I want to do!” I learned it, and I played it until I went to work for Bill Monroe.
He needed a guitar player and a lead singer, which I thought, “I don’t know if I can do this?” I had played with him here in New York City, my first time in this town. Later, I went down to Nashville, because he offered me a job, and when I got there he still didn’t have a lead singer and guitar player. All along I think he was thinking that of me, because a lot of his musicians through the years could play different instruments and sing.
Anyway, he put me on that path instead of the path I wanted to go on, which was playing banjo and singing harmony. I could sing all the harmony parts. I was kind of a natural tenor singer and I sang baritone in a lot of bands, but when he got me to play guitar, it was a pretty big challenge, because I had to learn to play all the songs he had recorded and wanted to play at the shows. He told me, “You know, if you can make the grade doing this, you’ll like it better.” I remember thinking, “I believe he’s wrong there,” but he was right. So that’s what got me here on this path. It was actually Bill Monroe.


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